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The Kill (Chapter 5)

All the bottles looked old. They were brown, dark blue, green, even pink, and they bore imprints like

AVEN HOBOKEN & CO. and PEARSON'S SODA WORKS.

"Very authentic," she said. "I didn't think Joyland took so much trouble."

The others exchanged glances, but said nothing.

"We'd better keep looking," Jenny added.

They passed another trapped miner, this one with thousands of small black ants crawling over his face. Jenny was liking the figures less and less-the feeling that they might start moving at any minute was almost unbearable. They passed strange waterfalls where purple water flowed like glass down broad steps of rock into a colored pool.

"There!" Dee said as they rounded a corner. "Picks!"

Miners were standing around a stream, leaning on shovels or holding pickaxes. Several had Bowie knives or pistols thrust through their belts.

Dee was already boosting herself up into the scene. "Look at this, it's great!" It was a tool with a wooden handle as long as a yardstick and an iron head. Neither side of the head was very sharp. One ended in a sort of blunt spike as long as Jenny's little finger; the other was flat and triangular. For scooping? Jenny wondered.

Dee was moving the tool up and down, trying to get it out of the miner's loose grasp. The miner, hat brim drooping wearily, stood impassive.

"Here's one I like," Audrey said grimly. She'd found a pick that was sharp on both sides.

Dee shook her head. "Too flimsy. See how the head's just tied on to the handle with rawhide? It might not hold." She succeeded in prying the tall pick loose and held it up triumphantly. "Now this is a weapon."

Michael was holding up an iron forklike thing with six heavy, curved tines. "Nightmare on Elm Street," he said.

Jenny put the Swiss Army knife in her pocket, gripped her flashlight in her teeth, and wrestled free a tool of her own. It had a short wooden handle and an iron head with a five-inch-long projection. She couldn't tell if it was a hammer or a pick, but it felt good in her hand, and she swung it once or twice for practice.

That was why she wasn't sure if the ground really moved a moment later, or if she was just off balance. She stopped swinging.

"Did anybody feel that?"

Dee was looking at the platform they were all standing on. "I don't think this thing is too stable."

"I didn't feel anything," Michael said.

Jenny felt a flicker of apprehension. Maybe it was just the platform-or maybe she was just dizzy-but she thought it was time to get out of there.

"Let's go back."

"You got it, Sunshine," Dee said, swinging the pick onto her shoulder. They all scrambled down,

knocking ornamental gravel onto the track with a sound like popcorn in a pan.

"Follow the yellow brick road," Michael said, waving his flashlight beam along the track.

And we can't get lost, Jenny completed the thought in her mind. We can't. We'll be fine.

So why did she have a cold knot in her stomach?

Michael, at the front, was now humming "I've been working on the railroad." Suddenly his flashlight stopped swinging.

"Hey. What the-hey!"

Jenny sucked in her breath, feeling her chest tighten even as she pushed her way past Audrey.

Michael was sputtering indignantly, staring down at his feet. Jenny saw the problem immediately.

The railroad tracks split.

"Did they do this before?" Jenny swept her flashlight beam first one way, then the other. Both sides were the same: metal rails laid over thick wooden boards. But they went in different directions.

"No. They never split. I would have noticed," Dee said positively.

Audrey let her pick down with a solid thump. "But it wouldn't have looked like a split from our direction. It would have been two tracks joining."

"Splitting, joining, it doesn't matter. I'd have noticed."

"But it would have been behind us. In the dark-"

"I would have noticed!"

"Hey, guys, guys-" Michael began, making the time-out sign with his fork and flashlight. It was completely ineffectual. "Guys-"

"I am not a guy," Audrey snapped and turned

back on Dee. It didn't matter what the argument was about anymore, it was turning into another Dee-Audrey jihad.

"Oh, fine, yell at me, too-" Michael began.

"Shut the hell up-all of you!" Jenny shouted.

Startled, everyone shut up.

"Are you people crazy? We don't have time to argue. We don't have time for anything. Maybe the track split before and maybe it didn't, but we came up by that wall." She pointed to her right. "We'll go that way and it should take us out."

Except, she thought, that nothing is what it should be when Julian's involved. And that tremor she'd felt before-maybe the ground really had moved.

The others, looking as if a summer thunderstorm had come and gone in their midst, meekly set out in the direction she'd indicated. But Dee said quietly, "If we are going the right way, we should see that miner with the ants all over him pretty soon."

They didn't.

The knot in Jenny's stomach pulled tighter and tighter. The right-hand wall was blank-and it seemed to be closing in. This place was looking less like a tunnel for a train ride and more like a real mine shaft all the time.

It was almost a relief to finally run into the proof. She rounded a slight curve and saw an ore car sitting squarely on the track in front of her.

A real ore car-at least as far as Jenny could tell. It was four or five feet long with rounded corners and solid wheels set close together under its center. It smelled like rusty iron-like a witch's cauldron, Jenny thought-and echoed slightly when she spoke while bending over it.

"This isn't part of the ride," she said.

"It would be stupid of a park to leave it here," Dee said and tried to pull it by the hitch in front. It clanged, but didn't move far.

Jenny had a wild impulse to jump into it and stay there.

She looked up slowly at the others.

Michael's flashlight lit up Audrey's hair from behind, giving her a copper halo. Dee was just a slim black shadow at Jenny's side. Jenny didn't need to see their faces to know what they were feeling.

"Okay, so we're in trouble," she said. "We should have known, really. So whose nightmare is this?"

The slim black shadow showed a glimmer of white teeth. "Mine, I guess. I'm not in love with enclosed spaces."

Jenny was surprised. The last time they'd been down in a cavern, she hadn't noticed Dee having any problems-but then, the last time her attention had been focused pretty exclusively on Audrey.

"I'm just a little claustrophobic. I mean, I don't remember having any dreams about this kind of thing. But"-Dee let out a breath-"I guess if you asked me what's the worst way to die, I'd have to say a cave-in would rank right up there."

"God, do we have to worry about that? Horrible ways to die?" Michael exploded. "I could fill a book."

"What am I most afraid of, I wonder?" Audrey said, rather emotionlessly. "Pain? A lot of pain?"

Jenny didn't want to think about it. "We've got to go back and follow the tracks the other way. It's our only chance."

They were headed deeper into the mine now. The hammer bounced bruisingly on Jenny's shoulder.

Since they were retracing their steps, the shaft should have opened up again. But it didn't. The walls closed in until Jenny could have touched irregular outcrops with her fingertips. The ceiling got lower and lower until it brushed Jenny's hair.

She gathered the flashlight and hammer in one hand so she could touch the cavern wall with the other. "Definitely not fiberglass," she murmured.

Not fiberglass but rock-and surprisingly beautiful rock. She could see veins of milky white and orange, the orange ranging from palest apricot to a rusty burnt sienna. It all sparkled with millions of infinitesimal pinpricks of quartz.

"Ore," Michael said. "You know, the kind gold comes in."

"This park was built on a coal mine," Jenny said, "They mined coal everywhere around here-but that was back in the eighteen hundreds."

"Different kind of mine," Michael said. "This is a real gold mine we're in."

Rock was everywhere-very rough, maybe carved but looking natural because it was so irregular. It was like being in a castle, Jenny decided.

And it was cold. She wished she hadn't thrown her sweater away.

Dee, a step ahead, was walking with her shoulders drawn in. Jenny could sympathize. She was beginning to feel the pressure of the rock around her-the solidity of it. They were in an endless buried shaft of orange and brown and black.

When the first junction came, everyone stopped.

"The tracks go straight," Jenny said. She knew perfectly well that that didn't mean anything. This wasn't the split in the tracks they'd seen before. A long corridor simply stretched out into the darkness on one side.

They followed the tracks straight ahead.

The stripes of white on the walls got bigger and bigger the farther they went. It was damp, now, and the walls felt icy and dirty. When Jenny touched them, her fingers came away black.

They came to a place where the roof opened into a sudden cavern-a horizontal shaft maybe thirty feet up. Jenny could see a vein of rust-colored rock at the top, and below that gray slate ridged and grooved as if water had flowed down it.

"That shaft or cavern or whatever goes back a way," Dee said. "We could maybe climb it. …"

"Or maybe not," Jenny said. She understood why Dee wanted to get out of the lower tunnel, but she didn't like the look of that black hole up there. "We'd break our necks, and there could be anything-or anybody-up there."

Audrey said, "Well, it's obvious that things are changing around us. I was wrong about the track, Dee."

Dee gave her a startled look. She wasn't used to apologies from Audrey.

Something cold struck Jenny's cheek. She touched it and felt wetness-and then another drop on her hair.

"Listen," Michael said.

At first Jenny didn't hear anything. Then it came, the loneliest sound in the world. Water dripping musically onto rock-slow drops that seemed to echo through the deserted shafts. It sounded far away.

"Oh, God," Jenny whispered illogically, "we really are lost." The lonely dripping brought it all home. They were trapped under tons of rock, in the dark, far from any help, and with no idea of where to go.

Dee said, "Uh-oh," and then stopped.

"What? What?"

"Well-I just remembered a nightmare I had once about a cave."

"It didn't flood, did it?" Jenny asked, thinking of the miners in the scene on the train ride.

"No. It just sort of collapsed."

Audrey said, "I don't think we should be talking about this. Tu comprend?"

She was right, of course. They shouldn't be talking, or thinking, or anything. Blank minds were what they needed. But Jenny's mind was out of control, following Dee's words like a spark running down a fuse.

"On you?" she said. "Did it collapse on you? Or were you just trapped-"

That was as far as she got before the ground started to rumble. Only it wasn't just the ground, it was the ceiling, the walls, everything.

"Which way?" Dee cried, as good in a pinch as

always, even if this was her nightmare. She swung her flashlight around, looking up and down the shaft. "Where's it coming from?"

Jenny saw rocks falling from the vertical shaft behind them. Michael's flashlight was on the same thing.

"Come on!" he shouted, starting the other way. "Come on! Come on!"

"It's all coming down!" Audrey shouted.

"Come on! Come on!" Michael just kept yelling it, his voice higher and higher.

The floor was rocking-like the tremor Jenny had felt earlier, only much, much bigger. She couldn't see anything clearly. Flashlights were waving all over the place.

"We can't go that way-"

"Watch out-the rock-"

Above the shouting voices was the voice of the rock, a grinding, shuddering, smashing sound. Jenny was trying to run, bruising herself on outcrops that seemed to jump into her path. She was being thrown from side to side.

"The floor-!"

She heard Audrey's shriek, but was too late to stop herself. There was a gap in the floor of the shaft, a vertical cavern down to another shaft. Small rocks were falling into it, and Jenny's flashlight illuminated dust particles swirling madly in the air. Then she was falling, too.

The first blow hurt, but after that she was in shock and just bounced off the outcrops numbly. She felt her fanny pack tear free. Her hammer and flashlight

were already gone, along with the bota bag. Then she was rolling and sliding, part of an avalanche that carried her with it effortlessly.

Then the noise and confusion receded and her mind went blank.

She was alone, in complete darkness and utter silence. Her throat was full of choking dust. And she was terrified.

Jenny knew this before she remembered who she was or how she'd gotten there. It was one of those terrible awakenings-like the kind she used to have in the middle of the night, when she jerked out of sleep knowing that something was out there in the dark, and that it was bad. And that in the daytime she would forget all about it again.

The worst thing was that this wasn't a dream. There was no bedside light to turn on, no parents to run to. Instead there was only darkness and the sound of her own breathing.

"Dee!" The shout came out pathetically weak. And it didn't echo properly. Jenny turned her face up but couldn't feel the slightest air current.

She was in an enclosed place. The rock must have blocked up the entrance she'd fallen through.

"Dee! Audrey!" Oh, worse than pathetic. Her voice died out completely in the middle of "Michael!"

Then she sat perfectly still, listening.

If I don't move, it won't get me.

That was ridiculous, of course. It only worked for monsters under the bed. But all her muscles were locked, so tense they were shaking.

She couldn't hear a sound. Not even a faint after-rumble from the cave-in. The darkness folded on itself around her.

She felt herself begin to panic.

Oh, please, no… just keep calm, think of something … but I'm scared. There must be some way out… you can move around, see what this place is like.

But she couldn't. She couldn't move. It was too dark. She could feel her eyes widening and widening, useless as the blind bumps on white cave fish.

Anything could be out there-coming at me-from any direction …

The panic was now a riot. She was utterly terrified that she would hear a noise, a noise of something approaching in the blackness.

But I fell in alone. This is a small place; I can feel it. I'm alone. Nothing's here with me. Nothing can get in. Nothing –

Rock scraped lightly on rock.

Jenny twisted to face it, still kneeling. The faint sound was lost now because her heart was going like a trip-hammer and her ears were ringing with sheer terror.

Oh, God-

"Ragnarok," said a musical voice, "means both a rain of dust and the end of the world. To the people who discovered the runes, I mean. Don't you think that's interesting?"

Julian …" The sensation was exactly like falling down the mine shaft.

Then she said sharply, "Where are you?"

"Here." Red light blossomed.

Jenny tried, in the moment before her eyes adjusted, to brace herself. But she could never brace for Julian-he was as much a shock to her senses as ever.

A beautiful shock, like a completely unexpected riff in a dull jazz piece. Like a picture you could pore over for hours and still find new and startling details in. Everything about him was so perfect and so perfectly outrageous that your eye darted from feature to feature in dazzled confusion.

Just now the red light glinted off his hair like fire on snow. It turned his impossibly blue eyes to an equally impossible violet. It threw dancing shadows across the planes of his face, bringing into relief the sculpted beauty of his upper lip. It cast an unholy glow all around him-which was entirely appropriate, because Julian was as seductive as mortal sin and as haughty as the devil.

He was wearing black like a second skin, pants and vest without a shirt. The red light came from the torch he was holding.

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